“Ellos son como una familia real.”

This will sound incredibly cheesy, but I never could’ve imagined finding another family I feel so comfortable with when I initially signed up for Global Citizen Year. Yes, I definitely had hopeful expectations of really getting close with these people, especially considering I’d be staying with them for 7 months…but after only 2 months of being with my family, I know I received more than just a family but a true gift. These people are going to be a big part of my life for a long time.

I remember clearly the day I received the information sheet on my placement. Sitting on the clean cut grass of Parque Carolina in Quito, surrounded with my newly revealed cohort of fellows, which would soon become a new family in itself. At the top of the sheet I read “Gallorumi,” the name of my new home community, as the piercing Quito sun bathed my arms. I would soon find out that the sun could cook skin even fiercer in Cañar (everyday I have to wear SPF 100 to prevent my nose and cheeks from crisping to a plump red). Living literally on the mountain that hugs the town of Cañar, I know far too well the two types of weather in Gallorumi: sizzling sunny afternoons and gray, rainy, mornings and evenings that turn my room into its own refrigerator. I sleep with 7 blankets and usually two pairs of pants and socks, but some nights that doesn’t feel like enough.

That first day that I found out the tiniest bit of information about my host family is a bit odd looking back on it now, because all I saw were names. Lots of names. There are a lot of people in my family, and if you count all of our neighbors (who are my other brothers and sisters, who I see quite regularly), the number of people would double.

Let me just tell you who all lives here to make it clear right away: I have my host parents, Carmen and Orlando, that are in their mid fifties. They have the warmest hearts that worry and care for my every need, but also really know how to tease me and get me to laugh at the goofiest things.The majority of the time they are tending to their farms, whether it be potatoes, habas, or their livestock, which means getting up at 5:30 am to go water and milk the cows in the cerro up the road from our house. With my parents working a lot, I spend the majority of my time with my host sister, Martha, who is 25, along with her husband, Marcelo, and their little baby girl Samantha who just had her 1.5 year shots. They were the very first people in my family who I talked to as Marcelo eagerly led me to his car to drive me to our house. I absolutely adore spending time with them. Initially it really reminded me of hanging out with my own brother, Aaron, sister in law, Sam, and niece, Piper. My sister Martha is more quiet and reserved on the outside, but when she laughs or smiles she exudes loving energy (we also know how to laugh until we nearly cry). She is an amazing mother, so attentive, patient, and somehow manages to never complain. Marcelo is a complete firecracker, absolutely full of energy and I usually have to hold back laughter just when I see him because of all our inside jokes. He is the absolute definition of an excited host family member, who constantly wants to show me new things and make me feel more invited and comfortable. Their baby, Sami, I swear gets cuter and cuter. It definitely can be hard for a baby to invite a new person into her house, but I’d say we are getting closer and closer day by day. Sami consistently says “no” to everything, even when I look at her (which she apparently learned from Peppa Pig) but I can tell she likes me cause right after she bursts out with laugher and a smile. I’ve even snagged a couple good night kisses and have carried her a couple times. She is such a goof, just like my own niece Piper, and I love it. After them, comes my host nephew who lives with us during the week and visits his mom on the weekends. At first he didn’t talk much, obviously a more shy 11 year old, but we have bonded over a videogame with Marcelo. We started at level 3 and are already at level 60. Anyways, even when he didn’t talk as much to me early on, I knew he was so special. So hardworking, patient, kind, and attentive to his little cousin Sami, who absolutely adores him and always wants him to feed her. Everytime I see him interact with her, I’m awestruck. Lastly but surely not least, is my adorable grandma, Mercedes. Her energy is so calm and I’ve really enjoyed just sitting next to her and hearing her tell stories. Sometimes I don’t understand everything she says, but we still smile, which says a lot more than words often can.

There are many more people I consider my family here beyond those that just live in my house. Between my insanely caring supervisor, Madre Gloria, who teaches the 7th grade at my school, and brings so much hope and good energy to her students, to new friends in my Kichwa class (an incredibly challenging language to learn), who I also practice english with and hang out with in Cañar.

I cannot lie, there are many things that have been frustrating me here. Whether it be the machismo culture, education system, or just being a foreigner in another country.  Teaching english can make me feel overwhelmed and exhausted, as I try to plan lessons for little kids, control students in my developing spanish, and learn they best way to teach…but I am learning so much every day. Some days, when lessons work and my co-teachers congratulate me, I leave school feeling like I’m on top of the world. Regardless of the outcome of class though, the students still run after me and slam into my sides in huge groups, hugging me for what feels like hours. That refuels my heart everyday.

Regardless of the challenges though, I have a family here that always brightens my day, no matter my constantly fluctuating emotions. I love work, because working at a school brings so many wonderful people into my life. However, whenever I am having a bad day, I go home, hang out in the kitchen with my family, and just laugh all evening and night. I have said this on more than one occasion to many people in Cañar to just express how wonderful they are, but “ellos son como una familia real.” They are like a real family.